CHICAGO (AP) — Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan on Sunday called on blacks nationwide to curb economic disparities by cutting back on excessive spending, pooling resources and investing in land — an action plan he laid out during a three-hour speech at the movement's annual Saviours' Day convention.
The 79-year-old leader has often used the annual keynote address — part sermon, part lecture — to discuss current events and politics on a national platform, particularly after the election of the nation's first black president. But Farrakhan focused most of his new message on the Nation of Islam followers in the audience.
Saviours' Day commemorates the founding of the Nation of Islam, which has espoused black nationalism and self-reliance since the 1930s. When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, the resounding tone of the convention was jubilant, but Obama's re-election took a back seat Sunday as Farrakhan said blacks still had to rely on themselves, and not leaders, to improve their situation.
"Even though one of our own has reached the highest pinnacle of the American political system, his presence has not, cannot and will not solve our problems," Farrakhan told the crowd of men wearing navy uniforms and women dressed in white shirt suits and matching hijabs.
Roughly 10,000 people attended the convention at the University of Illinois at Chicago, an event that drew followers from around the globe and capped off three days of workshops.
Farrakhan touched briefly on other topics — Israel, Obama's cabinet and healthier food consumption — but mostly reiterated teachings from the Chicago-based movement on a plan for blacks' economic recovery and said the biggest priority should be the purchase of land.
The Nation of Islam has more than 1,500 acres of farmland in Georgia. Ishmael Muhammad, the religion's national assistant minister, told The Associated Press that the group is looking to buy thousands more acres in the Midwest.
Noticeably absent from Farrakhan's remarks were any major mentions of violence in Chicago and the organization's renewed and more public efforts to combat it. Chicago had an uptick of violence last year with more than 500 murders and last July, Farrakhan dispatched the organization's military-style members to march city streets in an attempt to reach out to community members and those in gangs.
And in a rare move, the minister himself marched in the streets alongside Nation of Islam members.
Muhammad said members of the movement continue to do similar work in the neighborhoods of Chicago, New York and other cities but on a more low-key basis. He said the group would ramp up again in the summer in Chicago and that the organization also is developing anti-violence programs.
Chicago area ministers and anti-violence advocates from CeaseFire confirmed the Nation of Islam has become more active in combating violence in recent months, volunteering security services at a peace summit and workshops, among other things.
"The effort is to promote peace in the streets. Our first effort is to introduce ourselves to the community," Muhammad said. "So many feel neglected and abandoned."
In his speech Sunday, Farrakhan only addressed violence in terms of guns, saying illegal weapons are the problem.
"The Second Amendment has no relevance to the black community in this sense," he said. "All your weapons are illegal and you're using them like a savage people."
Sophia Tareen can be reached at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen .